Near Normal Snowpack Not Enough to Break on-Going Drought Across Southern Colorado



May 2020 Drought Status Map


Pueblo, 14 May 2020 – Snow packs in the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins were near normal this year.  That snow was not enough to relieve the on-going drought. Runoff in both basins is expected to be well below normal and looks to be coming early. Warm temperatures and lack of precipitation in April have accelerated the snowmelt. Models indicate the runoff may peak about 2-3 weeks ahead of an average year; the Rio Grande slightly earlier than the Arkansas. Runoff in the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins will be well-below average.  

Drought conditions began to develop in the early fall of 2019. Below average rainfall during the summer and into the fall depleted soil moisture and groundwater going into the winter. Those dry soils and groundwater reservoirs are currently absorbing snow melt that would run off in a wetter year.  

Forecasts from both the NRCS and the NWS reflected these dry soils and ground water deficits earlier this winter.  Water users in the Arkansas River basin are fortunate to have a number of dams available within the system. Snowpack and runoff in 2018-2019 were abundant and some of it remains available in storage.

They also may bring in water from the Colorado River basin via the Fryingpan-Arkansas project. The Rio Grande basin in Colorado does not benefit from similar storage and diversion facilities.  

As a reminder, low runoff does not mean no runoff. Increased flows can make stream banks unstable and change once-familiar channels. Take precautions and wear a life-vest if you will be in streams or onthe banks.


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